I went to see THE DARK TOWER so you wouldn't have to [a review]:

Last weekend, I saw Atomic Blonde (I know this is a review for The Dark Tower, hang with me for a minute).

Atomic Blonde was rated R as it should have been. If you're not in America, R means the movie is for mature audiences only. Atomic Blonde lived up to every one of my expectations, and when it comes out on DVD, I'm going to buy it so I can watch it again.

When I saw The Dark Tower was rated as PG-13, I lowered my expectations for the film, and here's why:

The Dark Tower novels were brutal, just as brutal, if not more so, than the story in Atomic Blonde. Susannah's story-line alone is horrific and that is all before she ever lands in Roland's world. The PG-13 rating said that the studio wanted a movie directed toward preteens and marketing and games and toys and that is precisely what the movie is. 

Being an urban fantasy does NOT make it a bad movie. I imagine a lot of the younger members of the audience enjoyed it immensely. As a matter of fact, from a story perspective, it was a very good movie. It simply bears only a passing resemblance to the novels.

Idris Elba as Roland was the best part. If you want to go and support this movie so that you see him in more leading roles, your money won't be wasted. He captured Roland's gravitas and his rare moments of amusement. While Elba gave the most nuanced performance in the film, his co-star Tom Taylor was also excellent as Jake Chambers. He and Elba had a lovely chemistry that really carried the film.

And while the film worked as a coming of age story, the movie failed for fans of the series, because The Dark Tower is really about Roland, not Jake. By changing the protagonist from Roland to Jake, the horror is replaced by wonder, and it's all sort of like the Wizard of Oz, but with gunslingers and creepy monsters and the Man in Black.

King gave Satan/Death a corporeal form in the Man in Black, and in doing so, he gave flesh to the evil that walks among us. The movie gives us the Man in Black as a Cruella de Vil caricature intent on slaughtering preteens instead of puppies. Somehow I never imagined the Man in Black to be quite that organized and operating from a command central. His was always a more subtle menace as the chaos that wanders among us. The movie robs him of that role, and in doing so, gives Matthew McConaughey's character very little to do other than walk around and be nasty to people.

If they ever do an R version of The Dark Tower and have McConaughey reprise the role, I'll be on the front row, popcorn in hand.

The plot proceeded smoothly from point to point, sometimes too smoothly. I never felt a great deal of tension, but the cast was great, and I was never bored. There was a lot of shooting; however, I found the violence in Wonder Woman to be far more intense than anything I experienced in The Dark Tower. There was also a nice little nod to Pennywise about midway through, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, coming soon to a theater near you. 

Overall, I enjoyed The Dark Tower movie as a light urban fantasy. However, if you're looking for something with guts, read the books.

Shadow of the Vampire--another spoilerific movie review (#SFWApro)

When I wrote my review of Snowpiecer, Kate Elliott made an interesting comment. She said, "Most of my trouble with this film as I watched it came about because I went in with expectations that it was going to be a science fiction film about what it would be like to live on Earth after the world froze, and it is actually (as you so carefully discuss here) an entirely different film."

I experienced the same feeling with Shadow of the Vampire. I initially went into the film with the mindset that the movie was horror (thank you, Netflix, for that erroneous marketing) ...

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Snowpiercer ... here there be spoilers (#SFWApro)



Oh hell, who am I kidding? Everyone has already seen this movie. As usual, I'm the last one to the party, because NO CAPTIONS AVAILABLE at the theater, and haven't we all heard THAT song enough times, so I won't sing it again here.

If you haven't seen Snowpiercer, turn back now. Go watch the movie, then return to discuss it, or not, whatever pleases you. This is your last chance ... okay, you were warned.

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Solomon Kane

Okay, I'm late to the party, nothing new there in regards to films. I have a hearing impairment and have to wait for the closed captioning that accompanies DVDs and Netflix streaming. Solomon Kane was released in 2009. I've heard that purists had hissy fits that it wasn't a replica of the Robert E. Howard stories, and I honestly don't remember hearing anything about the movie at all.

Complete dead air (as we used to say in the radio business).

All anyone talked about in 2009 was District 9. I succumbed to everyone's praise and got the DVD to District 9 for Christmas. My daughter and I watched it together and both of us thought that the storyline was flawed, and the movie itself fell back on trite Hollywoodish themes. District 9 was the last time I listened to the genre community for movie recommendations.

As a matter of fact, I'd been disappointed so many times that I pretty much gave up on genre movies for a while, but like any addict, I can't quit them forever.

A few weeks ago, I wandered through a local store, looking for something new to watch, and I saw the container for Solomon Kane. All I knew about the movie was that Ramsey Campbell had been tapped to write the novelization, and that is the only thing that made me stop and consider buying it. Then I remembered seeing it on the Netflix list. Having been burned by bad genre films one time too many, I thought I'd check it out on Netflix first.

I had no expectations whatsoever. Okay, that's a lie. My expectations were so low, my finger hovered over the stop button so I could back out and watch something else the minute that I got too bored. I'm not kidding.

The movie opens with Kane storming a castle. Kane is played by James Purefoy (he of Mark Antony fame in the HBO series Rome). He leads his men into the castle and through a hall of mirrors. Demons swarm behind the glass, really nasty-lovely demons. When I imagine demons, this is what I see. A teensy piece of me loved that moment and I suddenly wanted this movie to succeed.

I'm an old skeptic though, and although I was certain this movie would eventually disappoint me, I decided to hang with it for a while longer.

Some of the dialogue is corny. Purefoy delivers it like it's Shakespeare. The defining moment for me came when Kane looks up at the sky and questions God. I sneered, because I knew this was it--this was the moment when I developed the giggles over corny lines and bad acting and hit that stop button out of sheer self-defence ... and that moment never came.

Purefoy's angst and honesty were just so real that he wiped that sneer right off my mouth. I settled in for the movie and I was not disappointed.

James Purefoy's portrayal of Kane as a self-interested treasure hunter to Kane the man who seeks redemption to avoid Hell's fires was exquisite. His acting was so subtle that the viewer has a hard time pinpointing the exact moment when those two extremes merge into a wonderfully complex characterization. Max von Sydow was beautiful and tragic as Kane's father. The entire cast was comprised of fine acting, dark scenes, magnificent special effects. I've watched Solomon Kane twice now, and I still jump when the demon flashes out of a mirror to snatch a sailor into Hell. I know it's coming, but the scene is so well executed, it takes me by surprise every time.

Oh, and did I mention that James Purefoy can really rock a pilgrim hat?

I so thoroughly enjoyed Solomon Kane that I'm going to buy the DVD and watch it again.

Check it out:

Linkage: Interview with GDT, 2 movies, and a book

This week, all I have is a quick list of links and recommendations for you:

In a scene of passion, some DNA is left behind. --Guillermo del Toro

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon and read an epic five part interview with Guillermo del Toro. The interview was an act of passion and del Toro left his DNA all over the screen. He talked about movies and creativity and just about everything. Anything I write would be redundant, so just go read the interview.

I watched two movies: Timecrimes [Spanish title: Los Cronocrímenes] and Let the Right One In [Swedish title: Låt den rätte komma in]. I talk very briefly about Timecrimes here, because it is a hard movie to discuss without giving away some of the best parts.

Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire movies that I've seen since Near Dark, which is one of my all-time favorite vampire movies.

I put off watching Let the Right One In for a long time, because I thought it might be too young adultish for my tastes, but the movie surprised and pleased me. Let the Right One In is that magic combination of plot, characterization, and mood that makes the perfect horror movie. What you don't see is far more frightening than what you do see.

So if you're looking to get away from the latest Hollywood remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 58 in 3-D with real blood ... something ... something ... something ... watch Let the Right One In.

I have a nonfiction book recommendation for you, in case you're looking for a brand new take on the Crusades, check out The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. It reads like a novel and gives you an entirely different perspective on the Crusades.

From the blurb:

European and Arab versions of the Crusades have little in common. What the West remembers as an epic effort to reconquer the Holy Land is portrayed here as a brutal, destructive, unprovoked invasion by barbarian hordes.

When, under Saladin, a powerful Muslim army--inspired by prophets and poets--defeated the Crusaders, it was the greatest victory ever won by a non-European society against the West. The Arab version of the Crusades is a heroic story of how the Muslims overcame their rivalries and united long enough to win a holy war.

And I know all this makes it look like I'm slacking, but the good news is that I'm almost 9,000 words into In Midnight's Silence and the story is trotting along nicely.

So there.

What are you up to?

Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes]


Um ... if you're like me and really enjoy a book or movie that gives you a nice little mind-fuck, watch Timecrimes [Spanish title: Los Cronocrímenes].

The plot and characterizations reminded me of the old Twilight Zone series. You know, the really good ones that left you staring at the screen in a mild state of wonder as the end credits rolled?

Yeah that.

Timecrimes was just ... yum.

Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit, or True Confessions

Where Teresa once more says what she really thinks while risking the wrath of fandom everywhere, but for what it is worth …

I’m just not that into Peter Jackson as a filmmaker, and after some of the early reviews of Jackson’s version of The Hobbit, I’m even less into his work. It’s not that Jackson is incompetent as a director or filmmaker. Quite the opposite, his films are high on technique and innovation, which is what these early reviews extol. Kudos are given to 48 frames per second, but the story is described as bloated and “stretched thin.”

Don’t get me wrong. When Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to film, I loved it, I really did. He shot some very poignant, lovely scenes that I still remember, and he spoon-fed the story to me so that my brain wasn’t cramping about genealogies and impossible-to-pronounce names. Even so, when I watched The Lord of the Rings, I realized that story was secondary to technique for Jackson. The emphasis was on the beauty of the settings, and not just with hobbits and elves, even the darker scenes with the orcs and Sauron were stylistically appealing.

And therein lies my particular difficulty with Jackson’s work—he is all about technique and The Hobbit, out of all of Tolkien’s works, is all about story. That was why I was so crushed to see Guillermo del Toro leave the project. Del Toro has an intimate grasp of story-structure and knows how to weave technique and story to bring a visually stunning and coherent piece of work to the screen.

Whereas Jackson brings us a lot of pretty eye candy, which can be nice, but like all sugary things, tends to rot the brain. Jackson is innovative in his art and I know he’ll bring new things to the films that he’s created; however, flash and glamor and 48 frames per second isn’t why I watch movies. I’m there for the story.

And while we’re into heresies, I’m just not that into Tolkien either.


I said it.

The Fellowship of the Ring held my attention, The Two Towers sent me into a coma, and I skipped the first two-thirds of The Return of the King just so I could get to the end. Out of all of his novels, I loved The Hobbit the best, primarily because it was so unpretentious. The themes were simple, and as I became older and developed a better understanding of what led Tolkien to write The Hobbit, I loved the story even more.

Hence, I’ll be skipping The Hobbit, and The Hobbit II, and The Hobbit III ... The Hobbit XX ... The Hobbit LXXXI ...

there's more to evil than killing

While doing research for my current novel, Googleland somehow channelled me to the page for the movie Gabriel with Andy Whitfield (beware the search term Asmodeus ... you will go many places, none of them good). The conflicting reviews intrigued me, as conflicting reviews always do, and I decided I'd like to see it just to make up my own mind.

I figured I'd have to order it and promptly forgot about the movie until yesterday when I searched the racks for Priest. Lo and behold but what did my wandering gaze find but a single copy of Gabriel sitting on the top shelf! I snatched it and decided we would watch this one first and Priest later.

It was a gritty, dark fantasy, the kind I like to read and write. In Gabriel, each of the Fallen have a particular vice they encourage. Lilith runs a nightclub where drug use is rampant, Ahriman supplies the drugs that Lilith's clients use, and Asmodeus runs the whorehouse. Asmodeus was my favorite of the Fallen. With the use of surgery, he tries to give a woman a replica of his face. The insight this gives the viewer into Asmodeus is tremendous. His vanity and desire to create someone in his image is evident in that one scene; he has succumbed to the very lust that he promotes to make a mirror of himself in someone else's face.

Like the Fallen, Gabriel finds himself succumbing to his desire for revenge and his own rage. The negative emotions he thought he could easily defeat with love are roused and inflamed because of his love for the other angels who were murdered. His hate and fury overwhelm him until he loses control of himself and pounds Asmodeus's face to a pulp. Even unto the end, Asmodeus was effective, because he turned Gabriel's very strength against him.

It's horror, but not the kind of horror the Jason-Freddy-Chainsaw Massacre crowd craves. This is a more insidious kind of horror, the kind that can maim a life and take years to kill; the kind that destroys first the mind and soul, then the body.

Too many writers think of horror or dark fantasy as a string of gory murders, which to me is just a turn-off. Any moron with an ax or gun can kill--it takes real creative genius to lead others astray and into their own doom. I think that was the thing I liked about Gabriel; the seductiveness of evil, how it can be so attractive to us even when we know better.

Don't expect Academy Award winning performances in Gabriel, but it was an interesting movie to watch, especially if you're like me and enjoy characterization over body-counts.

Guillermo del Toro and Lovecraft's Madness

At the Mountains of Madness, Guillermo del Toro's dream project for a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's novella by the same title has been axed by Universal. It seems that del Toro refused to create a PG-13 version of the movie. You can read the official statement here.

Universal wanted del Toro to create something along the lines of Avatar. I suppose Universal imagined eight foot cut-outs of the Old Ones and Shoggoths in Walmart, a line of toys (stuffed blind penguins, anyone?), and possibly other marketing ventures based on the movie.

Just for Universal's information: I quit watching PG-13 horror movies because they are so tepid. There is nothing wrong with PG-13 movies, people enjoy them, and they should have as much variety as the rest of us.

My issue isn't with PG-13 movies. My problem is this: if it is not a PG-13 cash cow with multiple merchandising options, nobody wants to touch the film.

I feel like a sadly neglected demographic in Universal's sugar-coated world of PG-13 franchises, because they aren't making genre movies for adults anymore. Being a grown-up means your movie selection is narrowed down to Avatarish science fiction that relies on glitz and special effects over genuine storytelling, or "horror" films that base their entire premise on how many gallons of fake blood can be spilled across the screen in ninety minutes.

So I can see why Universal cringed at del Toro's vision for At the Mountains of Madness. Tweens and TwilightMOMs do not read Lovecraft. The story doesn't sport a cast of angst-filled teenagers mooning over one another. None of the characters are cute or loveable or would look good on a Burger King glass.

Lovecraft's stories were about mood and metaphor; two aspects of storytelling at which del Toro excels.

Since we're talking about dreams here: If I had my dream, del Toro would go back to El Deseo SA and make more movies like Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone.

Dark films with soul. Horror with meaning behind the dread and a thin line of hope intertwined in the story. Movies that make me think about the images and the characters long after the film stops rolling. I miss seeing movies like that.

But hey, I'm a grown-up.

Maybe Universal will make a movie for grown-ups someday.

I'll buy a stuffed blind penguin if they do.